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One of the best ways to cut back on your groceries spending is by sourcing as much food as you can for free.
Welcome to the third post in my series talking about how to eat for free. Impossible, you might think? Ask most families what their biggest monthly outgoings are and food is normally right up there. But there is so much we can do to cut the cost of spending on groceries and for me the first step is always sourcing as much food as possible for free.
One of the best and most interesting ways to get food for free is Mystery dining. I have done several Mystery dines over the last two years and quite enjoyed them, although initially it can be a bit of a learning curve. What’s even better is you can often use other perks along side your dine, such as Tastecard or Tesco vouchers, as companies as keen to see how staff do when using these, so you get even more for your money.
Mystery dining can enable you and usually one other (but sometimes more) to be fully reimbursed for the cost of a meal out. On some occasions you can combine the cost of the meal with vouchers so you can get even more food for free. In return for the free food you have to write a lengthy report all about your experience. If you enjoy writing and have a fair amount of free time this is perfect to get involved in.
How to get involved in Mystery Dining
The main company I use for Mystery dining are HGEM (previously the Mystery Dining Company) but there are also other companies such as Marketforce and The Silent Customer that provide mystery dines. The dines themselves can be anywhere from super posh hotels to chain restaurants to high street takeaways. There are also ‘Dines’ that are drinks only – great if you fancy a few free cocktails.
Not all mystery dining companies are currently taking on new mystery guests so it’s worth checking back regularly to see if a company you want to work with is recruiting. It’s also worth noting most of them have quite a lengthy entry process, where you will have to prove that you can write in good English and that your spelling and grammar are up to scratch. One company asked for a minimum 300 hundred words on a recent restaurant experience, another had a series of paragraphs on which I had to highlight all of the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
This is all part of the process but I have heard of people not getting accepted based on these entry forms so it’s worth setting some time aside to really focus on doing them well if you do decide to sign up.
How it Works
Once you’ve signed up and been accepted you can usually book your Mystery Dining online through your chosen provider, although sometimes, particularly for last minute dines you may need to phone to book. The brief tells what to look for, what to order and how much you can spend as well any specific food or drink you might need to order.
When you’ve booked in you’ll then get access to the more detailed report you’ll be filling out afterwards. Take a good read through and memorize as much of this as you can for later. The focus of these reports isn’t always on the food – sometimes it’s on the service or whether staff are promoting certain offers correctly. The more of these you do the easier it gets to remember things and you get used to what to look out for.
Some things to remember when Mystery Dining
- NEVER EVER let the establishment you are dining at know you are a Mystery Diner, no matter how bad the food or the experience. You can complain and send food back and then write this in your report.
- Most dines have a very fast turn around. During the week reports are often expected by 12pm the next day with an extra day allowed on the weekends.
- You are only reimbursed once your report is accepted and it can take a few days for the money to show in your account – not something that’s worth risking if you’re really skint or a likely to really need the money.
PROS of Mystery Dining:
- Free food. If you can’t afford to eat out on a regular basis then this is great way to get that luxury for free. Being allowed to use Tastecard and other vouchers also means you can get a lot of food for nothing. Some dines also offer a fee on top of the reimbursement which means you are actually getting paid to eat out.
- It can become quite a fun little hobby and may push you to eat places you might not have otherwise tried.
- Drinks are usually included and if you’d rather spend your reimbursement on a nice glass of wine rather than dessert, more often than not, that would be okay.
CONS of Mystery Dining:
- The forms to fill in afterwards are lengthy and can take a good couple of hours to complete, plus I found it took a few dines to get the hang of writing answers in the specific way they were looking for – you can’t just write how you normally would.
- I also had some issues with answers not being accepted. When asking what I should have written the assessor admitted even she didn’t know what sort of answer the company was looking for because the question was worded strangely -you’d think they check this sort of thing before the reports go out.
- There can be A LOT to remember and as every dine is different if you do quite a few close together it’s worth taking some discreet notes with you.
- Some of the dines are pretty low value but still require a heck of a lot of feedback – make sure what you’re doing remains worth your time.
- It can be hard to relax and really enjoy the experience when you’re constantly assessing and making mental notes of everything that’s going on.